If you've ever wanted to get a fly-on-the-dashboard perspective of the demolition derby world with a side order of domestic drama, now's your chance. Director Jesse Moss---who also worked on the Oscar-nominated On the Ropes---has created an entertaining blend of big dreams and twisted metal with Speedo (2003), a year in the life of demolition daredevil Ed "Speedo" Jager. Fueled by his daytime job as a mechanic, Speedo's remaining hours are all but exhausted by his
hobby obsession with messing around with cars. Here's the problem: he's been married for twenty years, has a family, and they're not all behind him 100%.
As first glance, most viewers would write off Jager as a inconsiderate man who needs to grow up. From an outside perspective, they'd be half right: after all, his hobby has all but completely taken over his life, and any husband or father like that is just asking for trouble. In true documentary fashion, though, Moss has presented more than one perspective to the story, and the final judgement is left to the viewer. To Speedo and his circle of friends, the awkwardly ironic cycle of repairing and destroying cars is just as valid a passion as art, music, or even moviemaking. To make a long story short: you might not like their hobby, but they certainly do.
One more than one level, this is a genuinely interesting story that entertains. As Moss follows Jager and company around for the better part of a year, the viewer is taken for quite a ride in just under 80 minutes. For a documentary ripe with demolition derby footage, Speedo also packs an emotional punch during scenes of domestic confrontation and other personal matters. It's safe to say that his wife, Liz, doesn't share his life's passion, and isn't afraid to make her opinions known. Despite a failing marriage and a dysfunctional family life, Speedo's often-successful year of demolition helps him finally start to get his life back together. It's not necessarily a Disney-grade happy ending, but it's a heartfelt story that just might take you by surprise. And of course, there's tons of car wrecks.
After gracing the beaten path of well-made but underappreciated films in 2003, Speedo has finally arrived on DVD courtesy of Docurama (Radio Bikini, Lost in La Mancha). Although this is hardly a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza, the single-disc effort is solid and well-rounded. The technical presentation makes the best of limited resources, and the extras are easily worth a look. It's not exactly your typical DVD release, to be sure, but sometimes that's just what the mechanic ordered. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Hey, it ain't exactly a pretty picture that's painted here, so the visuals aren't anything spectacular. Dull landscapes, tons of mud, bad interior decorating...this one's got it all! For this DVD, Docurama has done a good job of presenting Speedo in a decent 1.33:1 full-frame (original) aspect ratio. To the credit of the director: this was a relatively low-budget affair, and the limited resources still get the job done. The only issues worth mentioning are a high amount of grain present in nighttime scenes and an overall lack of image detail. Since Speedo was shot on digital video, though, this is hardly surprising.
Likewise, the audio is far from perfect but also gets the job done. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, the quality isn't always consistent but rarely takes away from the film. Dialogue is clear and easily heard, and only background voices and other small details occasionally sound muffled. While it would have been nice to hear a stronger audio mix for the demolition derby scenes, this is a decent presentation that sticks to the simple roots of the genre.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Presented in the typical, straightforward Docurama style, the static menus aren't very interesting but are easy to navigate. The 78-minute film has been divided into a dozen chapters, and no layer change was present during playback. All extras, like the film itself, are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Packaging includes a standard black keepcase littered with quotes, awards, and other praise for the film. A Docurama catalog list is also included.
The highlights of this disc's extra content is an Audio Commentary with director Jesse Moss and Ed "Speedo" Jager himself. Although the film itself contained plenty of input from Speedo already, it's great to hear the director and star together during this track. Speedo does most of the talking here---with Moss usually assuming the role of an interviewer---and the commentary proves to be anything but dull. There's a great amount of content covered, and the participation of such an unorthodox team of contributors makes for a very interesting and unique listen.
Also here is a Director's Statement from Moss presented in text form, originally written in July of 2004. This short text-based feature serves as an unofficial introduction to the relationship between Moss and Jager, and is a nice (albeit brief) complement to the audio commentary itself. On a similar note, next up is a text-based Biography of Moss, which also mentions his previous job as a policy aide and speech-writer on Capitol Hill. We're also given a series of Deleted Scenes (10 minutes) that are fairly standard: hardly dull, yet not up to the level of the finished product. Rounding out the extras are a collection of Photographs by Jager and a selection of Docurama Trailers.
While it's not exactly "sleeper hit of the year" material, Speedo was an enjoyable film that has cult classic written all over it. From the uniquely interesting premise to the solid directing efforts of Jesse Moss, this is a film that warrants further investigation. Thankfully, Docurama has given this film a solid DVD treatment, including a serviceable technical presentation and a nice little assortment of bonus features. Fans of Speedo should find this disc well worth the price of admission, as it's made a relatively smooth transition to DVD in every regard. Curious viewers are also encouraged to pick this up, too: although the price would normally be a little too steep for a blind buy, this well-rounded effort doesn't deserve to be left sitting on the shelf. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a hard-drivin' art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.